Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Discovering a Love of Science Fiction and Fantasy and Recent Favorites

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

I always used to say SFF (sci-fi and fantasy) wasn’t really my thing. I went through a brief flirtation with Douglas Adams in middle school (didn’t we all?), but after that, I didn’t really read much SFF. It was never a conscious decision, but I just didn’t reach for those books. Given my love of nonfiction, science, and medicine, maybe this is odd, but somewhere in my brain I just sort of thought SFF wasn’t my thing. Maybe it was some preconceived notions of what SFF entailed; I don’t know.

When I started getting into Star Wars, I often added the disclaimer of “I don’t really read or like SFF, but…” Around the same time, when I started reading comics, I put them in very discrete categories—they were comics, not SFF—even the ones that clearly were. I know, I know.

As I keep reading more and more books, I’m realizing that maybe I do like SFF. It’s taken me longer than I’d like to admit to realize this, but now that I have, I’m excited about it. A new genre to explore! So many books to read! As I read more and more, though, I’m also noticing that my way of reading has changed with SFF. When I read general fiction, I always know what’s going on in the narrative arc, I can follow everything, and it’s pretty much straightforward. With SFF, I have to turn off that part of my brain that wants a rational explanation for things: I have to suspend reality and if I’m not following something, become comfortable with that and let the story unfold so it can explain. I wasn’t always at ease with that, and I think that’s why I didn’t stick with SFF books before. I’ve since learned to just keep reading and stay on the journey.

Here are some of my recent favorites.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

This book…where do I begin? I read it in one night because the premise was fascinating and the writing was so descriptive, I couldn’t stop. Set in Los Angeles with the riots as the backdrop, Ella can see things. She can see the future of people. Kev, her brother, is scared for his sister and wants to protect her. When he’s incarcerated, Ella has to reckon with her abilities and figure out what she wants to do with them. Yes, it’s a dystopian sci-fi book, but it’s also a book about the bonds of family, how racism shapes and devastates lives, and the power of hope, love, and resistance.

The Future of Another Time cover imageThe Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

I read an ARC of this last summer and it blew my mind. I’m still thinking about it and trying to piece it all together. It’s a time travel sci-fi story blended with Riot Grrrl and feminism. It’s 2022, and Tess is a time traveler who uses her job to rewrite key moments in history to make the world a better, safer place—but that’s not easy because of the reverberations any edit to history can cause. She encounters another group of time travelers who want to stop her—and this is that story. It’s hard to adequately describe the book because there are multiple threads with different characters, but this is definitely one you want to check out.

a 3D-neon version of the NYC skyline with a blurb from Neil Gaiman across the top saying "A glorious fantasy"The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (March 24)

This is one where about 50 pages in, I was very confused and lost—but kept reading, and I’m so glad I did. If you read Jemisin’s How Long Til Black Future Month, this is an expansion of one of the stories in that book. Five New Yorkers are thrown together to fight a force of evil. In this story, every city has a soul—but NYC has six. Each character embodies a piece of NYC so vividly, in a very accurate way. Jemisin is brilliant, with the story holding timely truths about racism, power, religion, misogyny, and those who would do nothing about it. There is so much packed into this book that I need to read it again to really notice everything and appreciate her language even more.

When We Were MagicWhen We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey (March 3)

I was first introduced to Gailey’s writing through their book Upright Women Wanted, which I tore through in one afternoon. Their new book, When We Were Magic, is a YA fantasy novel that is pure delight to read. It follows Alexis and her group of friends, all of whom have magic powers. After an accident on prom night that ends with a boy’s death, they try to make things right—with unimaginable consequences.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell (March 10)

I am savoring each story of this anthology because I don’t want it to end. It includes stories from Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton, Ibi Zoboi, and more. There are folktale retellings, stories about love and family, and futuristic settings. The back cover of this book says “Beyoncé’s Lemonade meets Octavia Butler,” and do you really need any other description?

Are you an SFF reader?